State Politics

House votes to end ‘double dipping’ loophole

MANATEE — The state House of Representatives Wednesday passed a bill that would end the controversial practice of “double dipping,” in which some people are able to retire, collect a lump sum from the state, and then return to their jobs to collect in some cases both retirement benefits and salary.

House Bill 479 would close a loophole that has allowed approximately 9,397 people, 200 of whom are elected officials, to collect retirement benefits and a salary at the same time, officials said. Some are even “triple-dipping.”

In a year plagued with recession that has dried up the usual sources of state revenue, it is unclear how much the change in policy would save in dollars, said a spokeswoman for the state retirement system, who added that a study had been proposed.

“At a time when people are out of work and the economy is on a decline, I am happy we took this step to end the practice of double-dipping,” said sponsor Rep. Robert Schenck, R-Spring Hill. “This legislation will provide accountability to the taxpayers of Florida.”

The bill passed 106-10. The entire local delegation voted in favor, including Reps. Keith Fitzgerald, D-Sarasota; Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton; Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, and House Speaker Pro Tempore Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton.

Currently, Florida law allows a state employee to retire and return to work in 30 days.

The new legislation would extend to six months the period of time state employees must stay in retirement, or they would forfeit their pension, according to Schenck’s office. Furthermore, if an employee returns to work for the state, his or her pension would be suspended for a year from the date of retirement.

The bill also prohibits renewed enrollment, meaning state employees cannot accrue a new pension in addition to the original pension they already earned.

A companion bill, Senate Bill 1182, has been filed, but state Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, said he did not think that its chances of passage in the Senate were very good.

“I just think it barely made it through committee in the Senate, and so I just don’t believe it’ll have enough legs to get out of there,” Bennett noted.

Among the 127 double-dipping entries on a state list are Manatee County commissioners and employees, school board members and employees, those who work for the sheriff’s office, and even employees of the Manatee County Mosquito Control District.

Among the most well-compensated is Manatee County Clerk of the Circuit Court Richard B. “Chips” Shore III, a civil servant for nearly 40 years, who “retired” in 2007 with a lump sum payout of $514,434.25, and collecting monthly retirement pay of $8,495.83, along with a salary of $132,209.15 last year.

County Commissioner Ron Getman, who “retired” in 2001 from the Florida Highway Patrol with a payout of $154,522.29, drew monthly retirement benefits of $5,869.05 plus a $73,981.18 county commission salary last year.

Manatee Technical Institute Director Mary S. Cantrell “retired” last year with a $261,536.28 payout. Prior to her retirement she earned $119,065, and was rehired in February at a salary of $108,000. She received one retirement check, but will have to suspend the others until 2010, The Herald has previously reported.

And the school board’s Michael W. Rushing, director of criminal justice for MTI, “retired” from the Florida Highway Patrol in 2003 with a $264,020.37 payout and a monthly benefit of $5,316.08. He also drew a salary of $74,515.92 last year, according to state records.

Jim Drake, assistant superintendent of Manatee schools, said the potential change of the retirement legislation would not affect school finances much.

The district contributes 9.85 percent of each of the 5,500 full-time employees’ retirement funds.

“It will have some effect on us not being able to keep some of our principals, when they reach retirement age,” he said.

Shore said he does not have an opinion on the legislation.

“If that is what they say is the law, then that is what should be followed,” Shore said. “We tried to do the best, to follow what the law says. If they want to change it, that is up to them.”

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 708-7908 or at skennedy@bradenton.com. Sylvia Lim, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 7041, or at slim@bradenton.com.

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